The Problem with Being Polite


In 1931 fourteen Soviet economists were put on trial. They were accused of trying to form a ‘counter-revolutionary’ political party, and of plotting against the legitimate authority of the Communist Party and its leader, Joseph Stalin. To use a phrase familiar from more recent show trials, these men were accused of being insurrectionists.

In dictatorships and regimes, affiliation with any other party becomes a criminal offence. Opposition leaders can be pursued in the courts for no valid reason. They can be accused of crimes the regime itself is guilty of. They are subject to raids by armed police forces aligned with one political party. They are constantly denounced by a regime-friendly and regime-controlled media. They are subject to multiple indictments, and the courts threaten their freedom and possessions. Their cases are examined by judges who personally hate them, who would not dream of recusing themselves from the case, and who are in place simply to condemn and excoriate the enemy of the party in power. Their free speech is denied, and their right to stand in elections or question results is of course also gradually, or rapidly, denied. People who protest against any of this might be cold-bloodedly murdered by the police, perhaps by being shot in the shoulder or beaten to death with batons.

Thank goodness this sort of thing doesn’t happen in modern, liberal lands

Historically, one of the other things that happens in regimes that will not tolerate any real opposition, especially Communist ones, is that a whole host of ideas, thoughts and words are denied. Not only are political opponents imprisoned or executed, but society sees the expression of any independent thought as a crime against good order and public safety. To reinforce the new social rules on what can and cannot be thought or said, employment might be dependent on subscribing to things that are patently false. And to reinforce these rules even further, people who stray from regime-mandated thoughts, or who challenge the regime even with a contrary opinion, are demonised. They might be called ‘far right’ or ‘transphobic’ for example, or by various other names.

Thank goodness this sort of thing doesn’t happen in modern, liberal lands

Those persecuted by the regime are encouraged to denounce each other and themselves. Every show trial seeks a confession, as when one of the fourteen economists on trial in 1931 said this:

In the last minutes before my death, I will think with disgust of the evil I have wrought; evil for which not we, but foreign Mensheviks and the Second International must share responsibility”

This quote is an interesting one in multiple ways. There can be few things more grimly redolent of the nature of tyranny and the application of raw power than that a regime can put into the mouth of men it murders, as their final words, such a denial of self. When a State murders political opponents it is seeking to kill the ideas they hold, as well as the men themselves. But when it controls their final words and makes of these a grotesque endorsement of their murder, this kills even the dignity of defiance; the solace of going to one’s death for the sake of Truth.

It is truth that is being killed, as well as mere human beings. It was Truth that the regime feared, more than any human opponent.

The second part of the quote refers to exactly who these men were, and what ‘counter-revolutionary’ party they represented. For this was the Menshevik Trial, and these men were accused of trying to revive a party the Bolsheviks had outlawed in 1921. The Mensheviks were the polite Marxists, the ones who would work with soft leftist groups, with other socialists, with peasant parties. They were the ones who believed in a wide appeal and a certain freedom of thought within a broad umbrella of socialist aims. Lenin’s Bolsheviks wanted to be smaller, more radical, more fanatical….and they were. The Bolsheviks were the ones who immediately pumped out propaganda naming the two factions. The Mensheviks let the Bolsheviks define them and name them.

The labels, the exact opposite of Truth at the time of their creation, stuck until, years later, they reflected reality. Even at this early-stage, men like Lenin realised how powerful control of language and the labelling of opponents could be. How setting the terms of description could shape what reality followed. How this, alongside fanatical commitment from a small group, rather than fractious and broad appeal amongst different groups constantly debating what to do next, could be the most effective path to total power.

Thank goodness this sort of thing doesn’t happen in modern, liberal lands

Finally we come to the issue of politeness. The politeness that served the Mensheviks so poorly. The politeness we demand of ourselves, or of those resisting the modern regime, but which we never demand of the regime or its agents.

It is shocking how powerful the demand for politeness can be, even in the direst of circumstances and even when it is the persistence of a fetish for politeness that facilitates our destruction. Think of the polite Republican, the polite Conservative, or the polite citizen of our ever more tyrannical western nations. No different from the ancien regime aristocrats who thought they could serve in a National Assembly with Robespierre, or politely demur to revolutionary ethics without ever facing Madame Guillotine.

In revolutionary times, the adherence of conservatives to politeness is a fatal idiocy, a masochism of quite stunning blindness in light of the new and monstrous realities to be faced down. We have already gone some considerable way down the path to tyranny. And yet still many of us refuse to see the warning signs. It is as if we are sleepwalking on, wrapped in blankets of insensibility, just like those Mensheviks who let Lenin name them.

The truth is that in such days of growing regime, you don’t offer ancient courtesies.

The polite days are dead.

Daniel Jupp is the author of A Gift for Treason: The Cultural Marxist Assault on Western Civilisation, which was published in 2019. He has had previous articles published by Spiked, The Spectator and Politicalite, and is a married father of two from Essex. Daniel’s SubStack is available here.